Mossend - Extract from Truck Report 1871

The Mossend Works (Mossend Iron Company) consist of two collieries and one ironwork, in which about 950 men are employed. The length of pay is fortnightly, and advances are given every day except, the Saturday pay day.

There is one pay office for the three departments, and one store which the pay office adjoins.

Up to February or March 1870 it was the rule of the place for the advance men to come to the store when they got money out of the office, and a record was kept of those who spent their cash at the store and those who sloped. The latter were ticked off in pencil when the store keepers and the advance clerks' books were compared, and the former (those who spent their money in the store) were ticked off in ink. A note also of the men who took all the money away was made on a piece of paper, and "we stopped a dozen or half a dozen of them as an example." "Our habit was to stop the books of 10 or 12 of the worst as an example to the rest."

It seems to have been a common thing at these works for the store keeper and the advance clerk to compare notes about their books, and to talk about the advances, "not, however, (according to the storeman) so much about particular men, as about the amount of money which had been taken away." Frequently lines were given in the store without cash passing, but these were given, as was explained, on credit, and to men who had not a running account.

This system of advances and stoppages proved irksome to the men, and there was a feeling of dissatisfaction produced by it. The prices, according to the evidence of Mr. Webster, a draper in Coatbridge, who was induced to open business at Mossend on account of his customers from that quarter saying they were ill-used at the store, were very high, 20% higher than his own being charged in the Company's shop. Terrorism also was exercised to some extent according to the same witness, who deposed that he had seen men and women hiding themselves in his shop when any of the storesmen went past, for fear of being seen, and that he had found it impossible to continue his shop on account of the pressure that was brought to bear upon the people if they sloped the store. However this may be, a change was made about six months before the inquiry at Mossend, "to try and cause a better feeling about the place." The compulsory system was abolished, and the practice of stopping the books has to a great extent died out. This change has apparently been fraught with good effect, both as regards the workmen and as regards the office. The clerk told us that the trouble in his office had been considerably diminished by doing away with the stop system, and the workpeople whom we examined spoke highly of the store. Mr. Cameron had heard this store spoken very highly of, as keeping good articles and as cheap as can be got anywhere else. Mr. Drummond, minister of the Evangelical Union near Mossend, also spoke highly of it, having dealt there for 10 years almost exclusively. At the same time advances are still taken from the pay office to the store, and lines are given by the storeman. Mr. Neilson, however, the manager, considers such precautions useless and unnecessary, and that they might be abolished at any time. Mr. Neilson does not think that a compulsory system, which forces men to the store, would drive men away if there was steady work. He does not agree with those managers who consider that where stores are kept the workmen are inferior. A store he believes to be a good thing for the men, as well as a valuable investment for the proprietor. It ought to be added that Mr. Neilson, as distinguished from the other managers with whom he disagrees, is a proprietor as well as manager of the Mossend works.

The school fees at Mossend are deducted from men's wages whether they have or have not children in the school. There appears also to be a wish at Mossend that the men should be allowed to elect their own doctor.

Abstract of Evidence

Alexander Armstrong

I am a miner. The best store I have been in is Moss End where I am now. I get my siller, and go where I like with it. They stopped my book once. I asked why and they said I would likely ken. I said I did'na ken, and they told me to go round and get my book cashed, and I did so. My book has never been stopped since. I have never known any stopped since the last two or three months. Before that they were stopped, if they took away more than 2s. or 3s. Not quite so many go to the store now as used to go, because they can take away the cash. There is no mistake, it is a good store.

John Meehan

I am a puddler at Moss End. Since February last we can carry away our advance cash. I have dealt at the store since then. It has made no difference, because the store is the only shop that is convenient at Moss End. If a woman was not a scholar she would lose the farthing at Moss End. At one time the cash was so well stopped that people wanting ready money would come into the store with a line, and when anybody else came in with ready money they would offer him a line for the money. We have a friendly society. All workmen when starting are supposed to pay 1s. 6d. to 2s. of entry money. Every month they pay from 9d. to 1s. At the end of the year there is a dividend, and a meeting, and the head cashier lays before the society a statement of income and expenditure. That may be right or not for the men see no books. We do not consider it is conducted properly when the books are not audited. The school fees are stopped off us whether we have children in the school or not. If we send two children to school we have to pay extra, and if three we have to pay extra. We have no voice in the election of the doctor. We pay for him whether we want medical assistance or not. He is supposed to give us medicine at half price; but I bought his medicine, and went to a druggist and bought the same medicine for half the money that I had paid the doctor for it. I told the druggist to give me the same and the druggist told me it was the same. The men do not go in a body so fast against the store or the truck system as they would for an advance of wages. At Moss End it would be very inconvenient to go to any other shop. We supposed the reason why there had been no books stopped in the last few months was the agitation for weekly pays. My rent is 8s., it is stopped off my wages each pay. I have to pay rent for 13 months in the year, and I only get paid wages for 12 months in the year. In the same way we pay for 13 months of doctor and school. The wages are paid by the calendar month, the rent and off-takes by the lunar month.

Patrick McGarrie

I am a puddler at Moss End. The last witness has told the whole story of Moss End as far as I could tell it.

James Neilson, manager

I am manager of the Moss End ironworks. We have three works employing 950 men. The only store is at Moss End. There is no understanding as to the advances. Men have been stopped, but very very seldom. I have heard one man complain against the store. Since the change in last February the business of the store is much the same. The profit is one-third percent larger this year than last year. I think there are no restrictions in the Truck Act which are unreasonable as regards employers. I think men should be paid their wages in money and should be free to do what they like with their advances. The school fees in 1869-70 were £386, and the amount spent was £395. In the previous year the receipts from the men were £386, and the expenditure was £301. In some years the income exceeds, in some it does not meet the expenditure. The total income from school fees since the commencement has been £2,944, and the total expenditure £2,977, leaving a balance against the men of £32 10s., but we have charged no rent for the school, only five per cent, on the money spent in building. 30% of all our sales are sales to outside customers I do not believe in compulsion at all. A co-operative store was started near us and failed. Last year £16,000 was advanced, and £8,000 of it was sloped.

Mrs Margaret Howieson

My three sons work at Moss End. Once at the beginning of this new year I cashed 30s. and took away 5s. of it, and they stopped me for two or three days. The clerk just threw out my book. He did not say anything. I asked what it was for, and he said, I would know. I asked how much I would take away off the pound, and he said 2s. That was all. I never had my book stopped before nor since. Now you can either take it away or leave it in the store. Before this year we had to go to the store with it; everybody had to, always. The first time I ever sloped at Moss End my book was stopped. People understood it would be so. I never knew anybody slope continually there who did not have his book stopped.

David Scott

I am storekeeper at Moss End. I do not know the exact reason for the change last February. I believe the system of advances and stoppages produces dissatisfaction amongst the men. We used to send the cashier the store book when he wanted it. Sometimes he would have it every day, sometimes not for a month at a time. We have sometimes given lines without getting cash.

Alexander MacDonald, President of the Miners' National Association of Great Britain

At Moss End they used to employ a coin of their own in order to prevent the workmen from going away. That was used for milk. Moss End is one place where the system of building schools has been injuriously worked. The workmen have to support the schools connected with the works and also their own schools. The off-take which is deducted from the wages goes wholly to the master of the school, and consequently where the men do not wish it to go.

John Keefe

I have worked eight years at Moss End. At one time I dare not leave more than 2s. out of 10s. That is not the case now these six months. Last month I never sloped the store with all the money that I cashed. Nobody spoke to me nor has for nine months.

Alexander Webster, draper

I am a draper at Coatbridge. I had a place of business for about 12 months close to the store. My own impression was that the store would make about 20% profit more than we did. That would be out of the prices charged. They charged 1d. per cut of yarn more than we did, that is 7 1/2d. instead of 6 1/2d. for the same quality. Flannel was 1d. to 2d. per yard higher in the store. I have seen men in our shop hiding when any of the storemen went past for fear of being seen.

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